Sunday, May 26, 2013

The need to enlist some wisdom

The publication of the Peri Committee's proposals has sparked a stormy public debate, as expected.
The proposals are being attacked from two primary directions. One is from the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) population, which vehemently opposes the proposed reforms aimed at altering the status quo, which it finds amenable. The other side opposes what it calls the overly compromising nature of the proposals. What kind of burden equality can there be, they argue, when enlistment for haredi men is postponed until they turn 21, and when 1,800 yeshiva students will be given exemptions every year?

I won't deal here with the criticism voiced by the haredim. Basically, I view draft dodging as an immoral act, which undermines the foundations of Jewish solidarity, contradicts the fundamental Jewish principle of vouching for your fellow man, and runs counter to the obligation we all have to do our part in our righteous war to be here. And what can be considered more of a "righteous war" than the struggle for the Jewish state's existence and for the peace and security of its citizens, a struggle that has continued since the creation of the state and for which more than 25,000 people have sacrificed their lives?

Indeed, it is the criticism by those who support "the equality of the burden" -- a term I don't like because I consider serving in the Israel Defense Forces a profound privilege, not a burden -- that actually requires attention. It is easy for me to understand the criticism because the proposal really isn't ideal and doesn't provide the only fair and just solution -- equal service for all.

In principle, postponing enlistment or establishing quotas is uncalled for. I see Torah studies as a value and I believe the Jewish state should treat it that way by supporting Torah study in its various forms. However, those who study the Torah need to serve in the Israel Defense Forces and be a model of "Sifra ve Saifa" ("Scroll and Sword"). Yet despite my fundamental stance on the matter, I support the type of compromise recommended by the Peri Committee.
I believe in reforms. I don’t believe in revolutions. We cannot fix a reality that has been built for 65 years at one fell swoop. We cannot instantly repair the gigantic mistakes made by two great leaders, David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin. The former essentially paved the way for draft dodging; the latter made it applicable en masse.
Attempting to force comprehensive and immediate enlistment on the haredi population would have failed, and it would have come at a heavy social price. Reaching agreement based on gradual change, through open and honest dialogue with the haredim, is the required course of action. Coming to agreement in such a manner is better and more worthwhile, even if the change is smaller and takes longer, because of the very fact that it is agreed.
Regretfully, the haredi leadership, whether political or rabbinical, was not ready for real compromise. Yet the Peri Committee still formulated a serious plan. It is balanced and accounts for the reality of the situation and for the haredi viewpoint. One can only hope that the Israeli political system displays the maturity to adopt it. We can also hope for the haredi leadership to change its approach and be willing to become a partner for change. By doing so, it can influence the details of the agreement. Perhaps acknowledging that the ways of the past are no longer feasible will lead the haredi leaders to approach things differently.
Another reform presented last week is the so-called Tzohar Law, which would allow couples to choose which rabbinate will oversee their marriage without any restrictions based on what city they live in, as is currently the law. This reform is meant to neutralize the corruption power of extremist conservative rabbis who make the lives of secular and traditionally observant religious citizens miserable, because they are dependent on them to get married or divorced.
This is not a far-reaching revolution for religious life in Israel. Civil marriage is not at hand and neither is the desired measure of granting equality to all Jewish schools of thought. For this reason it was harshly criticized by those who said that it was not enough to change the religious reality in the country and therefore was insignificant.
But maybe this change will allow any couple to choose more open and enlightened rabbis, who are sensitive to their personal needs -- rabbis who represent a Judaism based on pleasantness, accommodation and peaceful solutions. The stampede of couples to these rabbis would obligate all rabbis to adapt themselves to their clients to survive.
There are those who oppose this change only because they fear its success, because they want to reap the fruits of the hatred toward the rabbinate and the current reality. But much like the army enlistment matter, it is also right to support gradual changes in religious services, which are still a giant leap for Israeli society.

No comments: